Happy Birthday Les Paul!

Les Paul 006 (Large)

The man whose name graces Gibson and Epiphone guitars the world round turns 93 today. The story of how he helped to come up with the idea of an electric guitar is fascinating to say the least, as this excerpt from a PBS tribute to him explains:

Along the way, he kept tinkering with his instrument.

Hollow body electric guitars were being developed and commercially manufactured as early as the 1920s, but they were prone to distortion when amplified. When he was still in his Waukesha band shell days, Paul often found his acoustic guitar drowned out in a band.

He started experimenting with different ways to amplify the guitar. One experiment was to fill his hollow body guitar with plaster of Paris; it cut distortion but left him with a very, very heavy instrument. He apparently also tried mounting strings on an old railroad tie.

"He was an early innovator," says Alan di Perna, West Coast editor for Guitar World. "There were other people who were technical innovators, but they didn’t play like Les did."

By 1941, still only 26, Paul had fashioned a workable solid body guitar he dubbed The Log, since it was essentially a four-by-four block of solid pine with a tailpiece, two pickups and a Gibson neck mounted on it. Later, for appearances, he fixed two side wings from an Epiphone guitar so it would actually resemble a guitar.When he approached Gibson Guitars about the commercial potential of The Log, Shaughnessy reports, they told him it was "nothing but a broomstick with a pickup on it."

In 1952, Gibson launched their first solid body electric guitar, and the endorsement of Les Paul has made him a legend over the years in which the guitar bearing his name has been sold. If my Les Paul wasn’t suffering from a broken string at the moment, I would gladly strum “Happy Birthday” as a tribute to one of the great innovators and inventors of history.

Amazingly, Paul performs 2 shows every Monday night at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City. Forget the Rolling Stones – here is the ultimate example of musical performance longevity!

 

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